Christian Principles for Realistic Politics

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Voting for President of the United States begins today in Iowa. For the next ten months it will be hard to avoid hearing about politics. This is welcome news to political junkies and tiresome for everybody else. But whether you are into politics or not, you should care about the political process. And as Christians we should try to think Christianly about the issues and candidates before us.

This can be tricky. On the one hand, I’m concerned that some of us think there is a Christian position on every issue—as if the Bible determines the one and only God-honoring decision regarding rates of taxation or how to respond if Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz. But on the other hand, I fear other Christians are so loathe to seem partisan, or they consider politics so unclean, that they don’t dare bring Christian principles to bear on their political thinking. This too is a mistake. You don’t have to be a transformationalist or reconstructionist to believe that biblical principles ought to shape the way we look at the world (including politics) and how we understand the way things work.

The Bible is a big book, so there are a lot of things we could say in an effort to piece together a political worldview out of biblical principles. But this is a blog and not a book. So let me take just one doctrinal area and tease out some possible implications.

I believe our most important political considerations grow out a proper understanding of the human person. The more our politicians and political institutions operate according to the way things actually are and the way we actually are the more we will flourish as a nation.

Consider this anthropological principles as you develop political praxis:

1. Man is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). No matter how small or frail or old or impaired every human being has value and dignity. Government should protect human life and punish those who harm it (Rom. 13:4; Gen. 9:6).

2. Man is made to work (Gen. 2:15). We ought to maximize incentives for hard work and remove incentives that encourage laziness (2 Thess. 3:6-12).

3. Part of being human, as opposed to God, is that we are subject to appropriate authorities. This includes subjection to government and the requirement to pay taxes (Rom. 13:1-7).

4. Humans are motivated by self-interest. Jesus understands this when he tells us to love our neighbors as we already love ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Self-interest is not automatically the same as greed or covetousness, which is why Jesus doesn’t hesitate to motivate the disciples with the promise of being first or the guarantee of reward (Matt. 6:19-20; Mark 10:29-31). Granted, our self-interest is not always virtuous. The work of the gospel is to teach people how their self-interest (joy) can square with God’s interest (glory). But the best policies are those that can harness the power of self-interest for the greater good.

5. Humans are not just consumers on the planet; we are creators too. The physical world is a gift and a tool. We have the ability to spoil, but also the responsibility to subdue (Gen. 1:28).

6. Because of Adam’s sin, the world is fallen (Rom. 5:12; 8:18-23). Things are not the way they are supposed to be. Utopia is not possible. Therefore, political decisions must deal with trade-offs, weighing pros and cons of various policies. We cannot eliminate the realities of living in a fallen world (John 12:8), but good policies can help mitigate some of the worst of them.

7. Human nature is bent toward evil (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). This means we cannot count on the goodwill of others or of other nations, no matter how well-intentioned we may be or how much we may mind our own business. The question is not where war comes from. That is to be expected given our nature. The question is what institutions and policies are most effective at establishing peace.

There is, of course, more we could say about the nature of freedom, the importance of justice, and the right of private property. All three are also crucial biblical themes. But the seven principles above can help us start to make sense of the world, make decisions in the world, and elect politicians who understand the way the world works

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